News / Asia

    Rare Earths Sources Court Japan

    As Japanese industries reel from Chinese export restrictions on rare earth metals, alternative sources are moving in to fill the gap.

    In 2005, Japanese industries asked Yasushi Watanabe, a geologist at the Geological Survey of Japan, to find new sources of rare earths - metals that are used in products from computer hard disk drives to hybrid car batteries.

    China for years has supplied most of Japan's rare earths. Watanabe's job has been to help assess the quality of deposits and the viability of mining them in countries outside China. In recent years, the Japanese government and large Japanese companies have entered joint ventures to explore for and mine these metals all over the world - in Vietnam, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Australia and the United States.

    Still, when China curbed rare earths exports to Japan in September following a territorial dispute, Japanese industries had to scramble.

    "It was a big mistake. Last year, due to the economic depression Japanese companies didn't buy enough amounts of rare earths from China. In future, we will not repeat such failure again," Watanabe said.

    At a rare earth conference this week in Hong Kong, organized by Metal Events and Roskill Information Services, miners from Greenland, Australia, the U.S., South Africa, Turkey and other nations reached out to the Japanese.

    Japan's high-tech industries need about 30,000 tons of the metals this year, and the need is expected to grow in the next two years, partly because of the demand for hybrid cars.

    Ahmet Arda, managing director of AMR Resources, says his company has accelerated the production of rare earths in southern Turkey to take advantage of the shortage.

    "It's a reality everybody wakes up to. We wanted to bring that production forward and we are looking for strategic partners, somebody who is interested in rare earths," Arda states, "This can be Honda, Mitsubishi, Siemens, Bosch."

    Watanabe, who is also a group leader at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, says Japan is developing technology to improve recycling of some rare earths from discarded electronic products. And it is seeking substitutes for rare earth components.

    He says in two years Japan will find its own steady supply of rare earths.

    "I think this year and next year would be very hard for Japan, but from 2012, this will change because we have our own supply sources and two major deposits Mountain Pass and Mount Weld in the U.S. and Australia will start producing rare earths. Now stable supply is more important than the price. Even if the price is somewhat higher than Chinese products, probably Japanese companies would buy from those mines outside China," Watanabe said.

    Rare earth minerals are difficult and expensive to mine. And like most mining activities, doing so results in environmental damage, particularly because the ores from which these metals are extracted can be radioactive. Chinese mines have produced rare earths at a much lower cost, forcing competitors to shut down in recent years and creating a near monopoly.

    Germany and the United States are among the countries that have expressed concern about China's decision to cut rare earth exports. Both countries have industries that need the minerals.

    The rare earths issue may figure in the strategic agenda for the leaders of Japan and the United States in their summit later this week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Yokohama, Japan.

    China denies it is using rare earths as a diplomatic leverage against Japan and defended its export controls as a step toward more sustainable mining and protecting its environment.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.